Speech - Launch of National Palliative Care Week
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National Palliative Care Week Breakfast 22 May 2012
The Great Hall, Parliament House, Canberra
Thanks for that introduction Claire and thank you again Yvonne for inviting me to Palliative Care Week.
I won’t repeat all the acknowledgements that both of you have made other than to endorse them. It really is a pleasure to be here again for Palliative Care Week.
Thank you all for coming out on a brisk Canberra morning.
It’s times like this I wish I could go back in time and grab the founders of Canberra by their necks and cross-examine them about why they couldn’t put the capital somewhere like the North Coast of NSW. It’s a little warmer and a little more pleasant, but such is life!
Thank you for coming out early this morning to celebrate Palliative Care Week. The theme of this year’s week is “Let’s chat about dying”.
This is a message I’ve heard very loud and clear in the conversations that Claire just talked about. Over the last few months and in the lead in to the Prime Minister and I announcing the Living Longer Living Better package, I held dozens of forums around the country with older Australians to hear from them their expectations and experiences of aged care, and indeed they were very keen to talk about dying.
At every single forum I was part of, someone at least raised concerns that they had about the control that they feel over their capacity to die with dignity – with physical dignity, with emotional dignity, with spiritual dignity; at a location and in circumstances as far as possible of their own choosing.
As you know, Australia does palliative care comparatively well. Recently we rated second in the world in a survey on the quality of death conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit. The Government, and I think all MPs in this place, are committed to Australia doing even better. There are already a number of projects that the Government funds to try and ensure we do better, particularly on advanced care planning, because we know that control over the circumstances of one’s death relies on a robust system of advanced care planning to ensure that everyone, health professionals and family members, know what it is you want to have happen in your, not just final moments, but final months.
There are projects for example which I’m sure you’ll hear about today, like the Respecting Patient Choices project at the Austin Hospital in Victoria and the Cradle Coast Connected Care Project in northwest Tasmania – projects that are helping us understand better how to align the circumstances of a person’s death with their own wishes. Projects that are helping us understand better how we can align palliative care and end of life planning with other reforms like the introduction of the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record. And projects that are also giving us a better understanding of the benefits of a quality death – not only obviously for the person who is dying but in terms of the psychological distress that people who are left behind experience during their periods of grieving.
These projects are incredibly important and I do encourage you to take note of them and learn more about them in the course of today.
We’ve also made sure palliative care is central to our aged care reform process. In the Draft Report the Productivity Commission issued in January last year, I think it’s fair to say that Palliative Care Australia was not entirely satisfied with the attention paid to end of life. Palliative Care Australia did a wonderful job in that intervening period to ensure that the Commission’s Final Report reflected and accepted the idea that palliative care is core business – to use their terms in the Final Report – core business for aged care.
That‘s certainly been the view of the Government as we released that report and started our determinations about a response.
In the Living Longer Living Better package we released some weeks ago, we announced new measures – additional measures, to further drive the development of advanced care planning through the health system and the aged care system – measures that will fund innovative services in each of the eight jurisdictions targeting GPs and aged care providers in particular, to ensure that they can give the best possible support to people under their care in developing advance care plans.
We’ve also decided to extend the PEPA program which features in your education sessions – extending the PEPA program from just health professionals also to aged care staff who are, as you know, on the front line for many people in their last months or last days.
But we know there is more to do.
The Senate Inquiry that Claire Moore is involved in, with a number of Senators also here today, is an important way in which we can push the envelope even further.
If the community wants people to age well, we need to also understand that that also involves being able to die well. As important as the reforms that I’ve outlined very briefly today are – and I think they are important – Palliative Care Week reminds us that it’s not just government action that enables people to die well. It also requires people to talk openly about these issues with their family and with health professionals.
So, I congratulate Palliative Care Australia again for holding this week, for lifting the bar again this year with having such a fantastic crowd turn up to take part in breakfast. But there’s no such thing as a free breakfast – there’s also an education session, as I understand it, which will be conducted by the very well known Norman Swan.
And, without further ado, I ask Norman to make his way on the stage.
Thank you for coming this morning.
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